Having a breast biopsy can be emotionally challenging and anxiety-inducing — particularly if you notice a hard lump afterward. Fortunately, a lump isn’t necessarily an indication of breast cancer — a biopsy itself can cause a temporary lump. Moreover, benign (noncancerous) breast diseases often cause lumps as well.
We’ll cover the basics about breast lumps, how biopsies work, and why you might feel a lump after undergoing a biopsy.
Breast lumps, also known as breast masses, are most common among adult women who haven’t gone through menopause, according to StatPearls, though people of any sex or age can develop breast lumps. More than 25 percent of all women are affected by breast disease at some point in their lives — and 25 percent to 50 percent of breast diseases in adult women are benign. Often, a breast mass is the first symptom of these benign breast diseases, showing up in a mammogram or ultrasound.
Benign breast masses can take many forms, including:
If your doctor wants to examine tissue from a breast lump, they may order a biopsy.
Doctors often recommend biopsies if a mammography or ultrasound breast imaging indicates a person may have cancer or if they find a suspicious lump during a breast exam. A biopsy entails taking a sample of tissue from the breast — often under local anesthesia — so that cells can be examined in a laboratory under a microscope. The laboratory will produce a pathology report with definitive information about whether cancer cells are present.
There are several types of breast biopsies, each of which requires a needle or incision — or sometimes both — for collecting samples of breast tissue:
Whether performed with a needle or incision, a biopsy can injure breast tissue and may cause a hematoma — bleeding, bruising, and swelling — where a tissue sample is collected. You may also experience pain. When bruising occurs, a lump may feel larger than before. In some cases, you may feel a lump for the first time after a biopsy, due to pooled blood from bruising after the procedure.
A lump from a biopsy usually takes about a week to go away and will resolve on its own in most cases. Your doctor will advise you on how to care for your breast biopsy site. Sometimes, doctors recommend using an ice pack to help reduce swelling. Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce discomfort and pain after a biopsy.
To help ensure that breast tissue heals well, your oncology health care team will likely recommend that you don’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds and that you avoid strenuous activity and exercise for several days.
You should get the results of your biopsy within a few days.
If you’re concerned about symptoms after a biopsy, or if swelling, tenderness, or bleeding from your biopsy persist for more than a week, contact your health care provider about follow-up care.
Lots of people feel emotional distress and anxiety before, during, and after a biopsy procedure — particularly while waiting for the results. It’s important to remind yourself that while a hard lump may be worrisome, it’s not a confirmation of cancer.
Take the time you need to manage the psychological stress that can occur after a biopsy. You may need extra rest after a biopsy. If you’re concerned about anxiety, talk to your doctor about how to manage stress with your biopsy. Your doctor can give you a referral for mental health counseling.
Other relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or mindfulness practices may also help manage stress. A study found that women who listened to guided meditation or music during a biopsy experienced a significant decrease in anxiety, pain, and fatigue after a biopsy.
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